Highlands Trail #20: Musconetcong Wildlife Preserve

~12 miles, ~7 hours, you got to be in it to win it

Hike #20: Graduation Day

 Riegelsville, PA Highlands Trail sign, the end of the line

Riegelsville, PA Highlands Trail sign, the end of the line

All good things must come to another beginning. Today, ladies and gentlemen, we hike into Pennsylvania.

Get in your car, launch Google Maps, and enter in 3 River Road, Phillipsburg, NJ for your destination. This will take you to the shores of the Delaware River.

A few minutes out from Phillipsburg, you'll want to psyche yourself up with this song:

 The Delaware River, folks. Washington wuz here.

The Delaware River, folks. Washington wuz here.

This is your parking lot below. Tip for the day: once you lock your car, put the keys in your backpack; it's very easy to lose them if they are in your pocket. I know, I should have given you this tip earlier on. Order your Uber, your destination is 355 Tunnel Road in Asbury. It will probably take 20+ mins for your driver to arrive.

 Parking lot in Phillipsburg. If you need coffee, walk across the bridge.

Parking lot in Phillipsburg. If you need coffee, walk across the bridge.

 Embarking on the final hike in style. Bow down to the beard.

Embarking on the final hike in style. Bow down to the beard.

With the roar of route 78 behind you, scale the steep hill at the trailhead, setting the tone for the level of adversity you will face on this final test of will and determination. Drink coffee while you do it.

Soon enough, you'll arrive at some concrete. Take a left here on Turkey Hill Road and eventually a right onto route 579. 

 hang a left here

hang a left here

 hang a right here

hang a right here

Head back into the woods at Sweet Hollow. 

 Massive uprooted tree. Over twelve feet tall.

Massive uprooted tree. Over twelve feet tall.

Highlands Endeavor CSI. Deer gets hit with arrow or bullet? Tries to flee towards brook?

You'll head onto Sweet Hollow road, then go back in the woods near here.

Cross some expansive open fields, which are relatively unusual in these parts.

Keep it moving, buddy, and then go around the cornfield.

 this is the best blaze ever

this is the best blaze ever

Take left onto Schaaf Road, going towards the entry point into Musconetcong Gorge Preserve.

Celebrate all that you've worked while hiking this long stretch that is the Preserve. This is your last section of blazed highlands trail, filled with rolling mountain walks, gushing streams, and sweeping valley vistas. I couldn't have asked for anything more. Except perhaps for an espresso machine somewhere along the way.

 Is there a job for me out there?

Is there a job for me out there?

Once you get to the spot below, cross over and keep going.

You've made it to the parking lot at the Preserve.

Look at this! It's the end of the trail. 

 Rockin. The end of the blazed highlands trail.

Rockin. The end of the blazed highlands trail.

Eat something. Pat yourself on the back. You've accomplished something quite amazing, the implications of which you've yet to fully understand.

Some might say the trail ends here. That would be a very valid and rational conclusion. However, I decided to keep going. For me, this quest was not complete until I reached Pennsylvania. The rest of the hike is across land that was originally slated for the highlands trail, but never officially made it in, so it is not blazed. 

What that means from this point forward is that the hike is optional. Should you decide to be done at the official end of the trail, you can hold your head up high. Do some walking meditation, be in this glorious moment, then call yourself an Uber.  If you feel the need to go on, like me, prepare yourself for the final exam. It's a doozy. 

Whatever you do, do not take a right at this corner:

 I'm serious, do not take a right. In other words, do not take the opposite of left.

I'm serious, do not take a right. In other words, do not take the opposite of left.

It is possible, for some reason, you still decided to take a right, like me. Maybe you weren't paying attention. Maybe you wanted to make the same mistake as me or perhaps walk in my exact footsteps.

If you see the following, turn back! You've gone the wrong way.

I must admit, this old factory was pretty damn cool. Can't imagine how many pollutants it dumped into the mighty musk over the years.

And if you can see this factory, you've gone the wrong way, as mentioned various other times. Turn around and back up that massively humongous hill you just walked down.

OK, so you're back at the Dennis Road sign corner. Keep going up that big hill.

You are going to road walk for a while. It is what it is. Stop complaining. Nobody cares.

Pass this old water pump.

Swing a right on Bellis Road.

And then a left onto Shire.

You've been going non-stop for at least five hours through some fairly challenging terrain. You probably want to quit. You probably want to say no mas. I get it. But this is the time to dig deep, in that section where the guts reside. Reach inside of you where only you can go, where you find the indefatigable will to win. I can only guide you from here. You will need to find your own way out.

It is time for the final test; straight up wild, unblazed, untamed, unreal landscape. I am not certain if any law presides here. If it does, you are most likely violating it. Like the sign says.

You'll be following the power line for a bit, through some thick brush and up some wickedly steep hills. The ultimate objective is to reach Mount Joy road. If you dare. Think of this as a good time to contact next of kin to let them know approximately where you are. There's really no exact way to explain it.

You're going to run into some private property. Resolve the situation. That means going into the woods on the right flank and going around it. Don't get shot.

I landed back into civilization at a Christmas tree farm.

I highly recommend you stay close to Google Maps throughout this part of the hike.

Beg, borrow, and cheat to get to the aptly named Mt Joy Road. Take it southwest. Go north at the corner, which should be River Road.

Say hello to your friend The Mighty Musk, which you'll eventually arrive at. Then to the bridge and onward to victory!

 victory, at last

victory, at last

 more victory

more victory

Congratulations. You've graduated! Send me your email address and you will get a special Highlands Endeavor decoder and patch.

This is your map for this hike.